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Poetry and Medicine
August 13, 2008

Confederate Jasmine at Galveston

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2008;300(6):628. doi:10.1001/jama.300.6.628

The flower is a star, a white five-pointed spiral,
swirling up against the deep green leaves.
A plant for cemeteries, rooted in the mold
of death, but reaching toward the hope of open air,
it climbs and clings, altering the shape of things,
and smells like honeysuckle driven mad
by dreams of spring.
The name makes you think of brave dead young men,
at Chickamauga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Antietam,
where the past rises like the scent of jasmine,
swirling in the green metamorphosis of time
that smoothes the rough contours of loss and wrong
into an all too human dance of might have been
and misbegotten dreams.
Here, behind the arch the jasmine climbs, there's death
without the monuments or graves. Un-named bodies
lie in vats of cold formaldehyde, in the morgue
where students learn design, and how to reassemble
lives from salvaged parts that live a second time,
patched together and recycled in the chop shop of immortal dreams.
We cannot grieve lives that still exist, in parts.
We have to mourn other parts we didn't save:
bravery and dignity can not be salvaged;
anti-rejection drugs do not define integrity.
This jasmine does not mask the reek of formalin
or hide the loss of parts we need, to make us
who we dream we are.

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